The maiden CAF Women’s Champions League, staged in 2021, was a great showcase, providing a much-needed – even if overdue – boost to the African game.
Eight of the best clubs, from the various parts of the continent, convened in Cairo to compete for a never-before-worn crown. The football on display, played in such fine spirit, was impressive, as was the effort invested by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) into bringing the event to worldwide attention.
Nearly a year has passed since the final, between Hasaacas Ladies and Mamelodi Sundowns, was contested, with the next edition now set to begin at the end of October 2022; on offer isn’t just the gleaming trophy, but also a ‘loaded’ purse being dangled as prize money.
Only three of the teams that featured at last year’s tournament will be in contention to secure a share of that kitty, including AS FAR, the club that finished third in 2021, and holders Sundowns. It’s that realisation which, at least in part, has left Hasaacas – inaugural first runners-up, yet absent from the lineup this time – feeling rather shortchanged.
Yusif Basigi’s side were arguably the best of the lot last time out, even if they didn’t have the ultimate silverware to show for it. scoring for fun and playing some brilliant football. They lost the final, unfortunately, but still ended up producing the tournament’s top-scorer and overall best player, Evelyn Badu, along with three other members of the all-star team.
To have achieved all that was quite impressive as Hasaacas, from a financial perspective, were seriously punching above their weight.
Sundowns, for one, are owned by South Africa’s Motsepe family whose patriarch, Patrice, is consistently reckoned among Africa’s wealthiest men (now doubling as president of CAF), and thus enjoy significant private backing. FAR also benefit from generous patronage, though through public funding, with the club operated under the auspices of the Moroccan national army.
Hasaacas, though, have no such deep pockets to dip their hands into. To support their debut African inter-club campaign, they had to beg – literally – to find whatever sponsorship they could get.
If they didn’t make it to the continental finals this time, in fact, that could be because they had to sell a couple of their biggest names – Badu included – to clubs overseas just to recoup some of what they spent in Africa.
“Ever since we participated in the CAF Women’s Champions League, we have never been the same,” laments Evelyn Nsiah Asare, Hasaacas’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Joy Sports quotes her as saying: “[We have moved] from one debt to the other, because we used so much money for the tournament and have still not received anything from the organisers.”
CAF, in its defence, insists it promised no monetary gains in the first place.
“There was no approved prize money grid for the 2021 [Women’s Champions League] communicated to the competing teams,” read a portion of a communique from CAF to the clubs in late September 2022.
“Sincere apologies if there has been a mix-up in communication thereby raising hopes and expectations.”
The supposed “mix-up” CAF apologises for actually resulted from a series of correspondence that more than gave an impression that the participating clubs would be compensated for their troubles after all.
A March 22 email was sent to them from CAF’s Finance Department requesting “bank details to enable us to proceed with [Women Champions League] prize money”.
Two days later, a follow-up email advised that the concerned clubs add “official bank certificates reflecting full details”.
They obliged, only to hear nothing from CAF for a while. The feedback, after the clubs prodded for one, was actually encouraging and positive: “The payment is currently under the process of internal approval…,” CAF replied.
How, then, do you go from that to “sorry, guys, but you played for free”?
Even worse, CAF now musters the effrontery to chide these poor clubs for merely demanding what’s reasonable.
“It is deeply disappointing to see this debate about such a beautiful success story that is CAF Women’s Champions League – the first on African soil. This competition is about growing African football,” Luxolo September, who speaks for CAF, told Joy Sports recently.
“We cannot spend energy on this. We should spend energy on growing our product. We need to get over this negative energy. The first edition of the competition was wholly funded by CAF. It was a commitment made by President Motsepe.”
Now that take – suggesting the complaining clubs should feel, not hard done by, but grateful they even got to be part of “such a beautiful success story” – is downright condescending, if not utter bollocks.
It’s almost as if CAF had only half-heartedly set out to test the waters the first time, to see just how well the concept would catch on – and, oh, it caught on well! – before then deciding to go the whole nine yards. Hasaacas and Co., clearly, were the guinea pigs in that ultimately successful experiment, and CAF couldn’t care less just how badly they bore the brunt of it all.
How do you “grow” women’s football by crippling – albeit unwittingly – some of its finest teams?
It’s already disrespectful enough that the likes of FAR and Sundowns now stand a chance of carving only a thin slice of the minimum their male counterparts are guaranteed for reaching the CAF Champions League final (a full $1 million less).
To have handed them absolutely nothing for their exertions, then – even if these relatively well-resourced clubs, who are certainly in the minority, won’t necessarily feel the pinch – is frankly demeaning.
Cash-strapped outfits like Hasaacas, though, would have – and are, indeed, having – a harder time of it, their wings broken after flying so high with so little financial muscle.
CAF simply choosing to look the other way, even flipping the middle finger in their faces as if to add insult to injury, hardly helps.
Enn Y. Frimpong – Ink & Kicks